Digi Domi

Sharing my passion for technology and learning.


Last week was the Social Media in Higher Education 2016 conference, which I was fortunate enough to attend. This was the second year of the conference which took place at Sheffield Hallam University, as it did last year also. The first thing that struck me about this conference was both the variety of different skills and usage levels that the various attendees and presenters had with social media.  Some people where slightly more advanced in their usage of social media, whereas others were just beginning.

During the conference itself there were 3 key themes that struck me, which I will talk about in more detail in this post. The things that struck me most where;

  1. The importance of students as co-creators
  2. An interesting debate about ‘lurkers’
  3. Discussions about Professionalism

Let’s start by looking at the first key theme, students as co-creators in more detail.

1.The importance of students as co-creators

One of the benefits of social media is that it’s interactive and so anyone can be a content creator. This makes it a powerful tool when used with learners, as they can learn by doing, creating content and even sharing it with the wider world and external subject experts. By engaging in this way student are raising their personal professional profile in their chosen industry and gaining experience. There is also another interesting side-effect of this, especially in relation to projects that are co-run with students, and that is the equalising of staff and students.

Although there may still be a slight hierarchy on social media, it does tend to place all those using it on a more even platform. Connecting celebrities with fans, and experts with learners whilst enabling them to ask questions or engage in conversation they could not normally have. This idea of students as ‘co’-creators can be really empowering for learners and help develop a confidence and passion for enhancing their learning. Social media as a platform for learning has been seen to encourage heutagogy as it put the learner in a more powerful position of control over their connections and output.

2. An interesting debate about ‘lurkers’

One of the discussions I found more interesting was a discussion about ‘lurkers’ on social media platforms, that is learners/ participants who do not actively participate in discussion or other activities but instead only view content. There were three main talking points around this topic; terminology, definition and impact.

The first discussion is one of terminology, should we use the term lurkers or does this have pejorative connotations? Is a better term, ‘silent participants’ or ‘passive learners’? Does it really matter what we call them? Personally, although I don’t mind the term ‘lurkers’ I do see why some would see it in a negative light and I think maybe ‘silent participant’ is a better term. Although the words we use do have significance, it is also important not to become too distracted by talking semantics at the determent of promoting good pedagogy.

The next point to consider is what counts as lurking? This seemed obvious to me, but as we moved into a group discussion on the topic it seemed that there are varying opinions on this. Some consider complete inactivity to be lurking, as in someone who reads conversations and consumes other content but does not themselves produce anything to share. This was more my view of what silent participation was before the session, and remains so after. However, I was slightly surprised to hear some proposing that those who ‘like’ content but do not offer content are lurkers. The level of engagement that is required to be shown for someone to be considered active, seemed to be something that everyone did not agree on, but it is a valuable conversation to continue having.

Finally, it is important to reflect on whether lurking is a bad thing. Do we need to consider ways to ‘lure’ those who lurk into the conversation and encourage them to actively engage? Would this enhance their learning, or are there some people who are happier and just as effective when they are consuming content, rather than producing it. If everyone where producing content, then is there a limit on how many people can be in a class? Surely at a certain class size not everyone can talk at once without diluting the conversation. How do we strike a balance in this case? Personally, I think that all participants should feel they have the opportunity to contribute and engage. For those who are hesitant or resistant we should investigate more closely what is holding them back.

3.Discussions about Professionalism

The final thing I want to talk about is the many discussions and presentations that focused on professionalism in the use of social media. This is a very natural topic to be considering in this sort of setting as social media puts learners in the public eye, and what they post could have effects long past their degree.

The main takeaway here was to avoid simply scaremongering. There are potential risks, and plenty of horror stories but if these are focused on too much in guidelines or workshops it puts social media in a very negative light and can understandably make students resistant or hesitant about using online tools.

Instead of focusing on the risk, it is good to present students with a realistic balance between the potential risk, so they are aware, and the positive impact social media can have. There are many success stories of students getting job offers and securing careers through their use of social media to share examples of work and connect with employers.

Overall it was an interesting conference, although it did not add a great deal to my personal understanding of social media, it did prompt me to reconsider some topics that I had not been as actively thinking about (such as the ‘lurker’ debate). If anyone is interested in exploring the use of social media in education then I would recommend looking one of the many excellent books produced on the subject.

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AAEEBL/ CRA Conference 2016

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the first ever joint AAEEBL and CRA conference, hosted in Edinburgh between 6th – 8th June 2016. For those who don’t already know AAEEBL is a US based global portfolio organisation, it stands for the Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence Based Learning. CRA is a very similar UK based organisation, with it’s name standing for the Centre for Recording Achievement. So, as you can imagine this was a portfolio conference.

I must pause here to note that one of the nicest things was that this was a portfolio conference and not a tool specific conference. That will be reiterated when I start to look at some of the key themes.

It was a wonderful three day event, that had an unusual but very beneficial structure to it. The first day everyone was together, with a single strand and there were lots of session that focused on getting us to talk in small groups or rotate around the room going to different discussions and making notes on table cloths. The second day was a more conventional conference day, with a joint keynote in the morning and then multiple strands (5 strands in fact) running through the day. The third and final day then brought us all together again in a single strand with more opportunities for collaboration. This meant that everyone had a different conference experience and so we could contribute different things to discussions on the last day, based on the sessions we had seen the day before. It was a very conversational conference, and although there was not much time to chat in between sessions the workshops and even presentation were delivered in such a way that it facilitated further discussions and thoughts.

To avoid this post being too long, I am going to move swiftly into the key themes that came out of the conference for me, so that I can then explore each of these in some more detail. For me there were 3 key themes, that kept popping up in presentations and discussion and these were:

Structure/ scaffolding/ frameworks
Process not product
Cultural shift/ change

Let’s dive in and look at these in a bit more detail, starting with Structure/ scaffolding/ frameworks. When talking about portfolios it can be easy to get carried away in their potential for creativity and exploration. However it is important not to forget, that anecdotally at least, students can find this openness very overwhelming. Indeed staff might also need some guidance in how to utilise this learning format. Therefore it is very important to provide some scaffolding, to at least get people started with using portfolios. At the conference there was some talk about templates, as well as frameworks for developing effective portfolios both for single assignments and for on-going holistic learning.

The next one might be my biggest take away from the event, and that is the idea of ‘process not product’. By this I mean that it is important we focus on the process of portfolios and not which product we might be using the facilitate them. In my experience it is all too easy to become distracted by making sure you are using the best possible system. But whether it is Mahara, PebblePad, WordPress or Weebly, the important thing is the process of creating a portfolio and all of it’s learning benefits. Moving forward I intend to take this as good advice and start work on a framework for portfolios that looks at practice and just refers to tools guidance in the footnotes when required. At the end of the day, most of the tools do very similar things and it is about ensuring the pedagogy and practice are applied effectively.

The final theme, but perhaps the hardest thing to tackle is the need for a cultural shift, for a change. This is hard to achieve. It struck me whilst discussing this at the conference that portfolios can often surface a lot of  insecurities, both on the path of the students (having to be so open and conscious about their learning) and the staff (changing their practice and possibly highlighting weaknesses). Therefore it would seem that a possible step towards this change would be by surfacing and recognising existing practice. It is easy for us to get carried away with the potential for portfolios, especially when we have been talking about them for so long, but it is important to remember that although the conversation is old for us it is new for some others. We should not run into academic’s offices and tell them they have to change the way they work. This is scary, intimidating and quite frankly off-putting. Instead we might want to go in and highlight stuff they are already doing that is ‘portfolio-like’ or maybe even just informal portfolio work. By highlighting and praising this existing good practice you are more likely to make people feel positive and encourage them to expand upon that existing practice. It might be easier to teardown a building and start again, but that can take a lot of work and often isn’t practical. Instead you need to work with what you have, but eventually you can completely transform a space, without having the tear it down.

I will finish this post with a last analogy, and this one is not mine. This analogy was used by Trent Batson at the conference and I think it is helpful. He was talking about the American automobile and how it took 35 years to become fully part of US culture. First they invented the automobile and it opened up a lot of possibilities, such as people being able to commute more easily for work. But even after this it still took time to build all the roads, parking spaces and petrol stations needed. The idea was proven but it took a lot longer for the infrastructure to become part of daily culture.

I use Twitter to take my notes and then archive them, and all the Twitter interaction I had afterwards via Storify. So if you’d like to see what I was thinking and sharing during the conference please see my AAEEBL/ CRA 2016 Storify.



Essential Prezi – Resources

This is an example

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